By Tara Jo Quinn
Three weeks before Dan and I got engaged we signed up for an online dating service.
It was a game, you see.
One afternoon, while we were watching baseball highlights, a commercial for eHarmony came on, and we cracked jokes as a series of presumably happy couples gazed into each other's eyes and snuggled while a voiceover offered some jargon about how, at eHarmony, potential matches are filtered for compatibility. And compatibility is a science, the ad implied, for eHarmony uniquely measures it according to 29 different "Dimensions."
Dan and I decided to be scientific, too. So after a few minutes of coming up with fake advertising campaigns of our own (like, "When your current relationship proves to be inharmonious..." or, "If you and your partner are no longer striking a chord..."), we decided to get empirical.
"Dan," I said. "Let's make eHarmony profiles and see if they match us with each other."
After all, reviewing your matches is free.
So later that night, we set to work. Sitting at opposite ends of my father's kitchen table, we filled out our questionnaires at the same time on separate laptops. We took turns reading the questions aloud. Only occasionally did we demand that the other answer in a specific way (i.e., Dan didn't allow for too much self-effacing on my part).
Completing the survey took over an hour; but once we were finished, there were instant results: each of us had seven matches.
Mine, unfortunately, were all from the
"A compatibility profile is never going to match us with each other," he said. "Think about how they go about determining things. The only way they measure intelligence is based on how much school you've completed. You finished college; I didn't--so they're going to assume you're too smart for me."
In reality, this is not so.
The fact that I'm not a single mother wasn't doing anything for us either. Dan's 17-year -old sister lives at home with him; so when the survey asked if anyone under the age of 18 lived in his house, Dan said yes. As a result, almost all of his matches had listed their sons as one of the three things they're most thankful for.
So Dan gave up, but I kept checking--partially because I wanted a story to tell and partially because I was rooting for eHarmony.
Surveys that qualify personalities fascinate me. During college, my roommate Alaina and I spent hours on end discussing Myers-Briggs typology, convinced that it could explain things about ourselves and the people we knew.
When I checked my eHarmony matches during those weeks, I was hoping, on one hand, for the same thing--a formula, a scientific indicator that Dan and I actually were meant to be. On the other hand, I was hoping for a loophole in chance-meeting.
What if we hadn't both gone to that art show on the same night? I thought. What if I'd decided not to go to the bar with our mutual friends afterwards? Couldn't eHarmony have helped? Couldn't it?
Apparently not. Apparently meeting a marriage-able other online leaves as much up to chance as any other means of meeting somebody. (Beg to differ? Just take a look at some online reviews: most people don't have anything magical to say about eHarmony.)
But it should be no surprise that the company's founder, Dr. Neil Clark Warren, thinks differently. In a 2005 interview with the National Review Online, he predicted that, "In five or ten years, there will be such an awareness of the massive challenge of finding someone with whom you have broad based compatibility that almost everyone will use the internet for this critical task."
To be honest, when I first read that, I felt a little spooked--"this critical task." Was it a bad omen that my soon-to-be-fiancé didn't bring me up as a result on Dr. Warren's patented romantic search engine?
...Probably not: I would venture to guess that matching personalities is a bit more complicated than matching key words and phrases. Besides, Dr. Warren, your five years have passed, and--at least in my experience--most people still consider online dating a last resort.
To eHarmony's credit, though, it may be a way to "get out" for the otherwise housebound. After checking his profile yesterday, neither of us was surprised to find that, in the last two months, Dan--the man for single mothers--had accrued about sixty more "matches" than I had.
Hey, if it wasn't marketable to some people, it wouldn't stay in business.
As for me and Dan, we're still glad to have found each other the old fashioned way--without a computer's approval.
Tara Jo Quinn lives and loves in Langhorne, Pa.